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Inside One of Palestine's First Skate Camps

VICE caught up with the camp's founders, including pro skater Kenny Reed, to talk about their goal of fostering Palestine's budding skate scene.

All photos courtesy of Adam Abel

In September of 2011, New York based artist and filmmaker Adam Abel and Palestinian activist Mohammed Othman went to Qalqilya to film a documentary about a local skater and ended up building a ramp for the city's budding skate community. The unexpected project was a success, but heeding the adage "teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," Abel and Othman have spent the last five years working at building more than just a skate playground for kids in Palestine.

Starting this August, the ramp will become the epicenter of SkateQilya, one of Palestine's first skate camps. SkateQilya aims to both foster a community and teach kids about leadership, art, and skateboarding. Inspired by the Kabul-based NGO Skateistan, the SkateQilya masterminds want to "bring the youth of Qalqilya together to meet in a positive, energetic, and safe environment," said Kenny Reed, a pro skateboarder who also serves as skate director of the project. "Skateboarding requires creativity, community engagement, and out-of-the box thinking. Our camp will be harnessing these skill sets."

"We [in Palestine] live in a society broken by decades of occupation... it's a city completely defined by barbed wire, concrete, and snipers," Othman, the executive director of the camp, recently told VICE. "These kids are the future leaders of our country, and what better way to guide them than to show them an art form and sport that strives to defy boundaries?"

The three-week camp, which will be held in a park inside the Qalqilya Zoo ("a caged-in skate ramp inside a caged-in city," according to Othman) officially opens August 7, but the SkateQilya crew is still raising funds to get equipment and support phase two of the project—a four-month workshop for kids who want to continue skating after the summer ends. VICE caught up with Abel and Reed to discuss the evolution of SkateQilya, and what they hope to achieve if they reach their financial goals.

VICE: Can you tell me about how building the ramp in the Qalqilya Zoo evolved into SkateQilya the camp?

Adam Abel: While the ramp was a success as a structure and container for the youth in Qalqilya to play on, what was missing was programming that could take it to the next level. We have watched Skateistan [in Kabul] grow over the years, and that team has created absolute magic. All our respect goes out to them. While it takes years to build that kind of organization, Mohammed [Othman] and I figured we could start small.

We immediately contacted Kenny Reed, and said we'd like to bring him over and build a pilot program that uses skateboarding and art to teach leadership and community building in Palestine. Kenny has taught skating all over the world and Mohammed was a youth coordinator for NGOs in Palestine for many years. Meanwhile, I have taught photography, video, and design at the college level. So we quickly came up with a curriculum that included skateboarding, photography, video, social media, and training in leadership and community building.

How do the kids get into the camp? Is it free entry?
Kenny Reed: We have an application for kids to fill out with their parents. It includes general safety information but also asks them to explain in a paragraph or two why they are interested in this camp. Our project is about youth empowerment, so we want to hear directly from them. Mohammed, who is running the application process, will review the applications with me, and in late July we'll be making a final decision on who attends the camp.

While most camps in Qalqilya charge a small fee for each child, our program is completely free. We are also providing them with free transportation, water, and T-shirts. In our original budget, we planned on providing them snacks and a full lunch. However, since we have not been able to raise all of our funds, we have had to make cuts to our programming. But it is not too late to help us reach our goal. We will be raising funds all the way through the camp itself at www.skateqilya.org.

Is the skate camp open to everyone in the city?
We are accepting up to 20 youth from ages 12 through 16. We expect more boys than girls because it is a sports camp and Qalqilya is a very traditional and conservative city. However, we have already signed up a few girls, so we are certain there will be a mix.

Who will be teaching the camp and what is the curriculum like?
Adam Abel: Kenny will be leading the skate curriculum. This includes teaching skateboarding on the ramp and on the streets. We will be also leading them on field trips to other skateparks and skate communities in the West Bank. Due to the decades of occupation, Palestinian communities have been systematically cut off from each other. One of our goals is to use skateboarding as one more connection tool to help foster meaningful relationships across the West Bank. Kenny and I are also putting together a skateboarding film series to show during the camp, including more traditional documentaries like Dogtown and Z-Boys, as well as classic skater videos like Kenny's own 7 Year Glitch. We will show our campers a wide gamut of skate culture.

What else will you be teaching outside of skating?
Skateboarding is only a container for the program. Mohammed, who has a background as a youth coordinator for NGOs in Palestine, will be leading workshops on leadership and community building. Working with the Qalqilya Municipality, we will be engaging the students every day with community service activities, and, in coordination with the local Red Crescent, lead them through safety and responsibility clinics.

In addition, I will be leading the art and social media component to the program. Skateboarding is about creativity and expression, so we want to offer tools with which our campers can communicate to the world. The only problem is that because of a lack of funding, we will have to cut back on purchasing equipment for this part of our curriculum. Cameras are essential to lead photography and video courses because not everyone will have a smartphone, and Palestine is still waiting to get 3G. Therefore, sharing content on-site at the ramp will be a challenge unless we have actual cameras.

What is the end end goal of the camp on a global level as well as locally?
Our goal is to inspire creativity, leadership, and community building in Qalqilya. Through the process of making our film and building the ramp in Qalqilya, we have witnessed how play can be a catalyst for imagination, community spirit, and perseverance. So we are trying to take it to the next level. With proper infrastructure and programming that is sustainable, we can use skateboarding to show these kids how to learn to fly both in their minds and on a board. And what better place to do it than in a city suffocated by a wall.

Skateboarding is not only a sport, but an art form and language. With the tools we are providing them, these kids can learn to communicate not only within their own community in an exciting and alternative way, but also with the rest of the world. At a time where xenophobia and fear is creating walls thicker than perhaps what surrounds Qalqilya, we are helping these future leaders of Palestine learn how to be ambassadors.

Help keep SkateQilya's dream alive by visiting their website and donating here.

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